Weaning puppies refers to the process of puppies learning to depend on solid food rather than mother's milk for primary nourishment. This occurs naturally in the wild, but it may take several months. If you need to place a litter of puppies during the preferred 7 to 10 week time frame, you may need to start the process on your own.
Feeding Puppy Mush
Most breeders begin feeding puppies solid food in combination with mother's milk as early as 3 1/2 weeks. To do this, they feed the same brand of puppy food that they have been feeding the mother to ease the transition. They mix this food with liquid puppy milk replacer and hot water and then blend it in the blender.
Separate the mother initially when feeding and allow the puppies to walk through the food, sniff it and sample it. You can encourage eating by placing a little on your finger and letting the puppies lick it off. Give the puppies at least 30 minutes with the food. Once all puppies have eaten, allow the mother in to clean the pups and finish the food. Do this three or four times per day.
Make sure the food is in a shallow dish so the puppies have easy access. Since they don't know how to eat solid food, they often fall the food and try to suckle it as they would their mother. This causes a mess, but don't be discouraged. Some breeders recommend putting the food on a cookie sheet in the bathtub for easier cleanup.
Each week, decrease the amount of water and milk replacer so the food begins to get more solid. By 6 or 7 weeks, the puppies should be eating solid kibble.
Weaning the Mother
As the puppies rely more and more on solid food, the mother should start naturally producing less milk. When the puppies begin eating the solid food, start weaning the mother off of puppy food back onto adult food. This should happen slowly. The first week, feed 3/4 puppy food and 1/4 adult. The next week, feed 1/2 and 1/2. The third week, feed 1/4 puppy and 3/4 adult. Then, she is ready for her full meal of adult food.
Some mothers are hesitant to stop the nursing process and must be encouraged to separate from the puppies. Once the puppies are around 4 weeks old, start separating them from their mother for an hour or two a day. Use some of this time to try feeding. Do something fun with the mother or allow her to rest, so that she enjoys the time and isn't anxious.
Adopting a Puppy
If you are adopting a new puppy, ask the breeder about the weaning process to ensure it has been going on long enough for the puppy to eat solid food. Ask the breeder what she is feeding. Wait at least a week before gradually switching to a food you prefer.
Weaning is a natural process that must happen eventually. To speed up the process for adoption, a gradual adjustment period allows the puppies to acclimate.
Read more: A Guide to Weaning Puppies - VetInfo